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USA Women's Olympic team tries to balance business and pleasure

Jul 25, 2016

Photo courtesy of USA Basketball

When they head to Rio for the Olympics, the USA women's national team will be hunting a sixth consecutive gold medal, an impressive and unprecedented goal.

Players and coaches alike realize the primary focus of their time with the national team is the actual Olympic competition, and when you wear the letters USA on the front of your jersey, anything less than a gold medal is completely unacceptable.

"I know some countries would be happy if they get a medal," head coach Geno Auriemma said yesterday after practice. "There’s not going to be any parades for us if we don’t win a gold medal."

The players know that the 1996 team set the table for all future teams, and led directly to the establishment of the WNBA. One player who is keenly aware of the past success is Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus, who is going for her third gold medal.

"I keep saying every interview that I do, I just remember having the USA Women’s Basketball poster from the ’96 team in my room because we didn’t have a WNBA and all of this," Augustus explained. "So my dream, my goal, was to be like those strong women that I saw in that poster and to be in this strong position to be one of those players that young women and young boys are looking up to."

Augustus embraces her role as a veteran to young players like Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, and Brittney Griner, all first timers.

"To be able to be a part of a legacy and a tradition that’s so rich in success and winning says a lot about where I’ve come from to now where people are like, ‘Oh you’re the old head on the team, this is your third time around.’ It means a lot," she said.

Going for gold medal number four, Tamika Catchings explains that the veterans from her first time set the scene for her. "I think just going back to my first time. Dawn [Staley] said, ‘we don’t leave here without the gold.’ And that’s kind of been the mindset from the first time that I came to the fourth time."

Still, both player and coach are looking forward to being a part of the spectacle that is the Olympic games, and juggling the pleasure side of things while taking care of business is always a challenge that a team like this has to face.

"If you’re one of the young guys, you can’t sit here and go, ‘well, if I don’t enjoy this, I’ll make sure I’ll enjoy the next one,’ Auriemma said. "Well, there might not be a next one for you. So, I’m trying to make it so that … we’ve got work to do, but at the same time, it’s every kid’s dream to play in the Olympics and here it is. You’re living it. So, let’s enjoy it."

Preparing for her first Olympic games, Griner has gotten advice from Phoenix Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi, another of the group going for four gold medals.

"Take it in. Take it all in. Don’t let it go by. It will go by quickly. It seems like it doesn’t go by quickly, but it will go by quickly," Griner said Taurasi told her. "She said she wish she would have taken advantage of some of the small things and really taking it in, and that’s what I plan on doing. Samsung hooked us up with some really cool gear, too. So I plan on capturing it all on my new little camera thing that I have. So I’m super excited."

Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry won a 2007 Pan American games gold medal in Brazil, and is looking forward to returning to that country.

"Brazil is a lot of fun," she explained. "Their fans are passionate about basketball. When we play, if we get to play Brazil, it’s going to be packed – jam packed. So I’m glad to get back to the country and learn some things."

It is Auriemma's task though, to make sure this team wins that gold medal while having fun, and he knows and respects what it means to his players.

"I don’t think that winning another gold medal for me changes my life that much," the veteran coach said, "but if you’re Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, when you get your first Olympic gold medal, that’s huge."